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Berlin Wall artist comes to Bristol for Upfest

One of the winning designs from Cotham School

Dr Debbie Pinfold with Thierry Noir and his finished panel

Thierry Noir puts the finishing touches to his street art

Press release issued: 27 July 2015

World famous artist Thierry Noir, famed for being the first street artist to paint the Berlin Wall, has taken to the streets of Bristol for Upfest – Europe’s largest free street art and graffiti festival.

He witnessed the efforts of school children across the city who have created their own artwork for a special Berlin Wall project, led by the University of Bristol to mark the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany later this year.

Ten secondary schools ran an internal competition to select which designs to paint on their own giant 8ft by 6ft panel. The Bristol schoolchildren’s panels formed a ‘Berlin Wall’ across the front of St Francis Church on North Street for the duration of Upfest, which took place over the weekend, with Thierry Noir painting his own panel live at the festival.

His brightly coloured paintings, which often feature cartoon-like profiles, are now considered iconic and can still be seen on the East Side Gallery in Berlin.

The Frenchman moved to Berlin in 1982 and from April 1984 he started to paint the wall, eventually covering one kilometre of it with fellow artist Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet.

His paintings became a symbol of new-found freedom after the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War. Rock band U2 featured Noir's artwork of on East German Trabant cars and used photos of these to decorate their 1991 album Achtung Baby.

Talented artists are travelling to Upfest from 25 countries, and from across the UK, to paint live on 30,000 square foot of surfaces in front of 25,000 visitors.

Bristol University’s Department of German has been running the project, entitled ‘What I would have painted on the Berlin Wall’. It aims to make the seismic event in European history real and exciting to local school children.

Organiser Dr Debbie Pinfold, a Lecturer in German at Bristol University and Schools Liaison Officer for the University’s School of Modern Languages, said: “These children weren’t born when the Wall fell but it’s such an important part of European history. We wanted to engage them with German history in a creative way that goes beyond the classroom, and there’s an obvious link with Bristol’s own vibrant street art culture.

“We were delighted when the Upfest organisers agreed to host the project and it was really exciting to show our work to Thierry Noir, someone who knows only too well how powerful street art can be.

“I’ve been thrilled to see how fascinated the children have been by the topic and amazed by the sheer variety and creativity of their artistic responses. It’s been fantastic to see them recreated on the streets of Bristol.”

Upfest festival organiser, Steven Hayles, explained: “We were really excited to have Bristol University, all the schools that took part and Thierry Noir at the festival this year and making it an even more special and memorable occasion. It’s been amazing to see youngsters using art to not only express themselves, but also as a way for them to delve deeper into history from around the world.

“On a personal note, my mum was there on a school trip the day the wall went up. She talks about that day occasionally and recalls lots of gunfire that night. ‘What I would have painted on the Berlin Wall’ is such a great project and the team at Upfest were just happy to be a part of something historic and being able to make this opportunity happen.”

Dr Pinfold, who experienced the night of German reunification first hand as a student on her year abroad in Hamburg, has been visiting schools to talk to pupils in Years 8 to 13 about the history of the Berlin Wall and its fall.

Her talks begin by showing the young people a map of Bristol and asking them to imagine waking up the next morning to find a fortified wall running through their own city and separating them from family and friends.

The project is supported by the University of Bristol and Routes into Languages South West.

The Wall that divided the city of Berlin between 1961 and 1989 was the most potent symbol of the Cold War, representing the division of a continent into two hostile blocks.

November 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the extraordinary night when border guards finally gave way to the peaceful revolutionaries of East Germany and opened the checkpoints. The end of inner-German division came on 3 October 1990 and the 25th anniversary of this momentous event will be celebrated this October.

Further information

The 10 secondary school involved in the project are: Bristol Cathedral Choir School; Abbeywood Community School; Bristol Metropolitan Academy; Fairfield High School; Backwell School; Nailsea School; St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School; John Cabot Academy, Kingswood; Colston’s Girls’ School; and Cotham School.

Also, a Cardiff-based art group, SM-Art Club, has designed and painted an 11th panel.

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